Unretired: How Writing Gave me a Purpose by
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Prompted By Retirement

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New Paths cartoon by Marcia Liss

At a social gathering a few years ago, someone asked what I did. A younger relative piped up, “She’s retired.” Well, that was a conversation stopper. It reminded me of the years I spent at home with my young kids. When I told folks at parties that I was a stay-at-home mom of children ages 7, 4, and 2, they nodded and moved on to someone more interesting. They should have stayed. I could have told them many entertaining stories.

Now when someone asks what I do, I answer for myself. I’m unretired and I’m writing and having a blast.

When I retired in May of 2013 from my career as a preschool director, I was at loose ends. So, I did what most retired women in my community do. I joined a book club, looked for a place to volunteer my wisdom and years of experience, and went out to breakfast, lunch, and coffee with retired friends.

I also struggled with what retired actually meant.

RetirEd (as in a retired educator with lots of opinions about the current state of education)?

Re: tired (as in falling asleep even earlier watching TV – LOL – or more seriously as in feeling exhausted trying to keep tabs on my grandkids)?

Re-tired (as in getting new tires for a used car or in this case starting a new venture as a “previously driven” person)?

My first book club assignment was to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s about a recently retired and frankly boring Englishman who embarks on a 627-mile walk to see an old acquaintance who is dying of cancer. Not the pick-me-up I was seeking at the time, but I always do my homework.

Much to my surprise, I loved the book. It spoke to me as a recent retiree. Life was all about the journey, and it’s never too late to start a new journey. This was the perfect book for me as I began my own unlikely pilgrimage to find my place in this new world. I had hoped to volunteer my time and expertise, but this turned out to be a bit of a disaster for me. I even wrote a bitter post about it early on (not too proud of this one), in which I said,

Now that I am a woman of a certain age on the volunteering end of the equation, I wonder why so many doors are so difficult to open. Why are “community volunteers” (translation: retired people) only used as a last resort by schools, which prefer to have parents (translation: young people)? … I am left wondering about the experiences I have had seeking an opportunity to make a meaningful volunteer contribution. Is it my “retired” status? Is someone my age viewed as too old to be useful?

Ouch. I was a bit frustrated and bitter. I had hoped to volunteer as a consultant in something related to education or children with disabilities. Aside from the folks at the preschool I founded, who would gladly accept whatever time I offered, I encountered a series of closed doors.  My expectation of being welcomed with open arms by a principal who didn’t know me was highly unrealistic. I felt much like how Joyce described Harold Fry,  “It was rather that he had passed through life and left no impression. He meant nothing.”

Looking back on that time, I was probably knocking very tentatively on the wrong doors. I had lost my confidence and felt the skills I had acquired over a lifetime didn’t interest anyone. I wondered if my “retired” status made me too old to be useful. Then I did what I always had done. When what I was looking for didn’t seem to exist, I decided to create the thing I was seeking.

In my case that thing turned out to be writing. Just before I left my job at the preschool, a parent who coaches writers asked me what I planned to do next. Since I had no plan, she suggested I write about the founding of the preschool and its history. That was a fun and therapeutic summer project. By the fall, I asked her what other ideas she had for someone who loved to write and now had the time. Together, we figured out how to transform me from someone whose writing style was often too wordy into a blogger who had to be pithy. Guess what? I came to love it. Sometimes my posts were well-read and other times almost ignored. Sometimes folks made complementary comments and other times not so much. But I learned to enjoy this new path for the sheer joy writing brought to me.

In addition to learning how to blog, I devoted time and energy to supporting my mother through a huge transition in her life. My father had died the previous July, so she was on her own for the first time ever. When Mom died in April of 2015, I filled the hole in my life and dealt with my loss and retired status by becoming completely unretired. I decided to write a book.

Book launch party at my preschool with my sisters-in-law

Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real was published in May of 2016. I had turned 70 the previous September, just months after my mother died. My mother had told me in recent years that I should write a book, so my project was definitely a tribute to her. As Simon and Garfunkel crooned in Old Friends, entering this decade of life as the newly crowned family matriarch was terribly strange indeed. The bridge of their song (Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be seventy.) played in my head as my unretired-self plunged into creating a book that told the tale of growing older and shared the wisdom, attitudes, and values that informed my life.

Due to my advanced age, I was in a hurry to publish the book and move on. Like most things in my life, I decided to do it myself. Needless to say, not a best seller. Nevertheless, I had persisted and was really enjoying writing. In retrospect, the book was therapy for me. I had to let go of many things in order to move on with my unretirement.

On his strange pilgrimage, Harold Fry discovered, “It was the journey that mattered.” That’s pretty good advice for any retiree. Find a path for yourself and just keep walking. It’s the experiences you have along the way that really matter. Blogging and my book project helped me to find my voice and purpose. Now when someone asks what I do, I answer for myself. I’m unretired and I’m writing and having a blast.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Wonderful Laurie, and thanks to Retrospect I’ve gotten to know you a bit, and will happily read your blogs and your book!

    I also started blogging after retirement, and have used some old blog stories that fit the prompts on Retrospect and vice versa!
    My blog:
    http://www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

    As another blogging friend says, See you in Cyberspace!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, you are a strong and admirable person. Glad you have pushed ahead and found a path that has given you purpose and pleasure.

  3. Laurie, true to my word I just Amazoned your book, but as I told Charles whose book I also now have, it must now take its turn on the pile on my night table. So not sure how soon I’ll get to read it – you know we retired Boomers are busy folks!

  4. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Laurie! Great to learn about your reaction to being retired, and how you came to write your book. And now you have cleverly piqued everyone’s interest in reading the book!

    I just have to put in a plug for Retro – if people are buying the book from Amazon, PLEASE go there by clicking the link on the righthand side of the homepage and then Retro will get a (small) percentage of whatever you spend in that session. I hope it also works if you click the link at the top of Laurie’s story.

  5. Having now read several chapters of your book, Laurie, I’d say you’re a writer, period. I hope you don’t ever feel the need to explain that you “used to work.” Your book is a page-turner…it’s lively and relatable, it’s informative and nostalgic, and you write with warmth, intelligence, introspection, grace, and humor. I know including photos would have been prohibitive; that said, I actually went to the web and looked up your amazing mentor, Warren Cherry, and Cherry Preschool. You have much to be proud of as the Founding Director! And now, back to the book.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Barbara, you made my day. Thanks you for your kind words and for checking out my mentor, Warren Cherry, and the preschool. I often think that we need more people with his kindness and empathy more than ever these days.

      • Laurie, ordered and awaiting your book!

        For three years my son went to a wonderful, nurturing nursery school at Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The director was an amazing woman named Mary Solow.

        I was still on maternity/child-care leave during Noah’s first year there and volunteered to set-up a parenting library at the school.
        Thus as a fly-on-the-wall I observed Mary’s interactions with the children and the teachers – she was kindness and wisdom personified.

        On what was to be his last day, five-year old Noah refused to join the others in the room where we were all gathered for the “graduation ceremony”.

        Mary told me to stay in my seat and she left the gathering to seek him out. After a time Mary and Noah came in hand-in-hand to join the group. Mary knew that he had been resisting his passage out of that warm and wonderful place.

        Ten years later when Noah was in high school we heard that Mary was retiring and would be honored at Central. We were members of another synagogue and had not seen her for over the 10 years.

        Noah and I went to the ceremony, planning afterwards to go up and re-introduce ourselves. But before we had the chance, Mary walked towards us.
        “Hello Mrs Lehrman and Noah”, she said with her warm and wonderful smile.

  6. You have inspired me to approach my writing more seriously. I often have random ideas in my head but sometimes within days, I cannot recall what exactly what they were! So I just resurrected a small notebook from the back of my closet and will jot things down when a memory or an original thought pops up. I have long planned to collect my memoir pieces in a self-published book for my grandchildren. Your piece has motivated me to get started!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Hi Sara! I get my best ideas in the shower. I have used a notebook but another method that works for me is to put the idea on a post-it and stick it to the bottom of my computer. I have also been writing the type of memoir pieces you describe to do a self-published book for my grandkids. My grand plan is to match the stories with photos. I know it’s a bit ambitious, but it’s good to have goals, right?

  7. Your experiences resonate closely with my own. Your words meant I could feel both the confusion and growing confidence as you stride to the goal you yourself created. Lovely!

  8. I cannot believe that I did not consider adding photos to my memoirs! Thanks! With cell cameras being so convenient, I have lots of photos, (at least of more recent events.)

  9. Sara, you can always go back and add more photos to your stories at “edit your story”!

    Who thought we’d all be taking photos everyday – especially of our food!

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